What process do you use to purchase cables?


I’m in the process of updating my gear and thinking about what to do for updated cables. Every time I think about it, my head spins as there are so many different cable options & companies. I struggle to even start the process.

I don’t care if it’s speaker cables, interconnects or power cords – Just explain what you typically do to nail down your purchase.

FYI – my past “process” was to simply purchase whatever I found to be the most affordable options recommended by folks on this board. For that reason, I’m currently using Canare 4S11 speaker cables, Mogami Gold interconnects, and Pangea power cords.

Since I’m planning to push my component updates to significantly higher quality gear, I don’t want to fall short on the cable side. If you have a process, let’s hear it! Thanks


dfairc777a
Same as everything else: read, read, read- and read some more. Whole system bought over the last 15 years now not one thing auditioned anywhere, all reviews and user comments. Few times called and talked to users. Almost always my last step is to call and talk with the designer. By then my product knowledge is extensive and my decision is about 90% certain. Never once asked anything like this on any forum. Hard to think of a bigger waste of time. Have you read this thing? Info galore, but not like this. Search function. 

You can probably figure out this is neither quick nor easy. It does however work. Extremely well. https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/8367 Current OL Sovereign turntable and Raven Blackhawk amp shown here https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/9675 

Again, every single thing acquired via the above process. It just works. Unbelievably well. The usual advice to try before you buy is incredibly costly, time consuming, and severely restrictive. 
Your first and second sentence hits VERY close to home Miller
Mr. einstein’s belief that what one reads about how a cable sounds in reviews and other user comments is sufficient to base a purchase decision for your own system, without listening, has been previously discussed.

A search of this site brings up the thread entitled "Too good a post to waste", authored by einsten. In this thread Almarg argues that a cable that sounds good in one system will not necessarily sound good in another’s system, as einstein is again implying in this thread.

  almarg9,670 posts
07-04-2020
2:58pm

Millercarbon:

... if everyone really believed this then no one would be recommending any wire (or anything else) without saying it only works this way with such and such an impedance. Otherwise its "exactly the opposite (or at least very different)." Which no one ever does!

... Nevertheless we cannot conclude from this that everything works " exactly the opposite (or at least very different)" depending on what its connected to. If this was the case no one would read a review on anything. Why bother? If its going to sound completely different connected to different stuff, why bother?


Your use of the words "otherwise" and "everything" signifies a complete misreading of what I said. I cited three very specific situations in which, depending on the specific parameters that are involved (capacitance, impedance, etc.), the sonics of a specific cable may be the exact opposite or at least very different depending on the application in which the cable is used.

I cited those three very specific examples to illustrate that the following statement you had made ...

Actually no, they sound the same regardless of what they’re plugged into.

Either that or the wire somehow magically knows what its plugged into and is able to change accordingly.

Just one more bit of nonsense everyone believes without evidence and keeps repeating simply because someone else did.

... is incorrect. I certainly was NOT claiming that "EVERYTHING works exactly the opposite (or at least very differently) depending on what it is connected to." I’m surprised that you misread (or perhaps mischaracterized) my post in that manner.

I’ll add that in addition to being technically invalid, as I perceive it your statement that I quoted just above is inconsistent with the findings of most experienced audiophiles. Witness some of the comments in this very thread.

Jetter and Ovinewar, thanks for your comments!

Regards,

-- Al
Flack from bragging, it's better than real WAR
Take that statement however one chooses 
The Cable Company has a lending library of cables that you can borrow and try on your system for ten days. You get charged a rental fee (5% of the cable cost), but that gets applied to anything you purchase from them. It’s a fantastic way to try out new cables. 
Cheers!
Post removed 
DIY. I make my own.
Copper foil is best for usb, and interconnects.
6x 20 gauge solid copper is best for power cables. (Litz construction)

The more you build, the more you learn. No shielding is the best shielding, means cotton is the most natural sounding insulation.


As with any audio component, I start by identifying what sound characteristics I’m looking for and read reviews and owner’s accounts of products that have those characteristics.  For cables in particular it’s relatively easy to buy them used, try them out, and if they don’t work out resell them for little or no loss if you buy smartly.  There are also several very good direct sellers with generous trial periods that’s another great way to go.  But regardless, it all starts with identifying what sound characteristics you’re looking for and going from there.  Hope this helps, and best of luck in your search. 
Many suggestions above good. I used the lending library at the Cable Company years ago when first attempting to ascertain impact of all cables in system. You could buy and sell,  but lending library least hassle and likely least expenditure.
I'm surprised that no one has suggested dealer recommendations and loaners.  Many years ago, John Rutan at Audio Connections let me borrow some Kimber interconnects to try at home. I hope that this practice still exists!
Thanks Guys, this is a tough one.  Sure I can (and do) read a bunch. The problem is that everyone has their favorites and without first hand hearing experience you don't know if their ears, gear & room fit my ears, gear, and room.  

I'm most surprised by MC's statement about reading as being a better method than listening.  I've read an awful lot of his posts and that seems to go against his usual advice - that being to use your ears. 

I'll probably try the listening tests either through borrowing from my dealer (Probably won't work as they are pretty snobbish) or trying from the cable company. 

I'm still struggling with where to start.  I haven't set a budget in stone, but I'm unlikely to spend more than 1K on speaker cables.  Unfortunately that still leaves a ton of cables to evaluate.  

As for sound characteristics - that one is again difficult as I've not finalized my amp purchase.  It will probably be one of the Pass Labs class A amps, but I'm also looking at Boulder and Constellation (Which I'd prefer to Pass, but $$ is an issue and these things aren't easy to find on the used market).

Dart board isn't a bad idea either... Just put 20 or 30 choices on the board and throw the dart as to which one you try.  It could work?
I buy what sounds the best in my system Tara Labs,Furutech and Purist. 
You need to finalize your amp purchase first. Listen with present cables, determine what you don't like as to sound quality, purchase new cable based on that knowledge. Cables are final purchase when building system.
I’m most surprised by MC’s statement about reading as being a better method than listening. I’ve read an awful lot of his posts and that seems to go against his usual advice - that being to use your ears.

Good catch. In a perfect world everyone would home audition and it is incredible what you can do that way. In the beginning I had the good luck to be taken in and mentored by one of if not the best audiophiles and dealers around. Stewart was the proverbial quality dealer who had selected all the best high value components and knew them inside out.

This was back in the early 90’s, my listening room had just been built and so from the very beginning I had access to a tremendous amount of the very best gear right in my own system. It was incredible how much improvement we made with the truly astounding part being how everything he had not only sounded a lot better but cost LESS than what I had!

The only problem with all this is what happens when Stewart retires and I lose my connection? This happened about 20 years ago and if I had stuck with only buying what I can first hear I would have been screwing myself out of access to all the very best stuff. I take this way too seriously to ever allow that to happen.

The whole time of course I would read reviews, just not that seriously because I had my crutch, my ringer, my pinch hitter. With him gone I had to get a lot smarter about it.

So here’s what I did, and you can do it too. I know what qualities I like, what led me to get what I have in the first place. Looking around at what I have, I know what each does well and what each could maybe do better. A lot of this comes from more or less constant tweaking. Tweaks and mods reveal way more than a lot of people seem to think. You learn so much from even something as simple as moving stuff around.

So I use what I already have as a sort of Rosetta Stone. You know the story. They find some new language, no one understands a word of it. Just a bunch of symbols utterly without meaning. Just like reading a review of some component you never heard written by some reviewer you never met. Is this starting to sound familiar? Then one day someone uncovers the Rosetta Stone, a rock with the same unfamiliar words but this time including some we do know! Through careful study we learn the new words until gradually we are able to read a whole new language.

Got it? You already have your Rosetta Stone. You have whatever it is that you have. Even if you have nothing you start building your own Rosetta Stone by going to a few stores or friends and comparing a few things. Soon as you know what one thing sounds like to you that is the key to eventually understanding what something completely different sounds like to someone else you never met.

It just takes time to build up this knowledge base. But that is way better than the alternative, taking guesses trying things at random, which is exactly what asking around here will get you. No kidding. Scroll up. Someone literally recommended throwing darts. I rest my case.

There are a few tips I can give you. First and foremost, know thyself. What kind of listener are you? If you’re a measurebator be honest, embrace the suck, and take no prisoners. Seek out all the John Atkinson Approved gear. I hear Tekton DI is the best he ever measured, so you can probably do pretty well even this way. Or if on the other hand you are into the heart and soul of music and listen for catharsis then you will want to pay special attention to when people say they were moved to tears, swept away, lost in the music.

You can probably guess which one I am. Knowing your reviewer is almost as important as knowing yourself. Some clown around here thinks Michael Fremer is my hero. Fremer is a good reviewer but not because we share the same taste in, well anything, but because I know where Fremer is coming from. He gives me enough information to know what he likes and doesn’t. So that is another tip, you can learn from everyone even those with different taste and style. It is all down to what you read for and how you read them.

None of this is easy. I do firmly believe though there is so much great gear out there where the only practical way of finding it is to rely on other people’s ears that this is worth the effort.
You can always head in the direction of some main brands OP, that’s playing it safe. As has been said before, think of making the connection like a piece of gear and price accordingly in relation to your current/future components. Buy demo, open box or weeding out. Weeding out as in being on the discontinued list. Shop smart

So much great gear out there indeed...
"...As with any audio component, I start by identifying what sound characteristics I’m looking for and read reviews and owner’s accounts of products that have those characteristics...."

After a while, you have built your own library of cable sound qualities. And not to go too far off the topic but budget concerns are a top priority. I'm not going to buy cheap cables or extraordinarily expensive cables. That eliminates quite a few.
Post removed 
 
read, read, read- and read some more. Whole system bought over the last 15 years now not one thing auditioned anywhere, all reviews and user comments. Few times called and talked to users. Almost always my last step is to call and talk with the designer.


Ditto! Same story here. MC has hit on most of the pertinent info. You have to learn to read reviews. Look for commonalities in what the reviewers say about the product. IE, if strong bass is one of the mentioned attributes by a large group of reviewers, then you can usually count on that being true. But IF you are already struggling with too much bass, that may not be the component for you. However, if like me at one point, you struggle to get adequate bass, then this may be the component you want. 

OTOH, the cable company has a lending library. But it will cost you for that service. Plus you may not have best bang for the buck choices. Many cable mfgs now have 30, 45 or 60 day return policy. These are usually small business and not the big name brands. But they are still good. You get to audition at your home for the price of return shipping in most cases. Audio Envy & Morrow Audio are just 2 companies with good reputation and prices (bang 4 buck). But there are plenty of others who also offer a return policy
There are so many makers of cables out there that it's easy only to buy from direct-sale companies and retailers who offer home-trial/return.

But where to start in what could be a short or long journey?  That's where sites like this, and a few others--for balance, come in.
Honest answer:  Make my own from pure silver solid conductors.

https://www.partsconnexion.com/dh-labs-interconnect-wire-cable.html

Once I started doing that I never went back and got rid of almost all of my premium cables except the one's that go to my subwoofer since they are still the right length. :)
@erik_squires From the description I am not seeing any of the four in your like as being pure silver speaker cables.  Which one is it?
Post removed 
You know I may have been mistaken. :) I just realized these are copper/silver alloys. I’ll have to ask PC for clarification. I’ll get back to you.

However I'm pretty sure this is what I  have been using and I've not bothered looking afterwards:

https://www.partsconnexion.com/DHLABS-57225.html
There’s no need for any of this confusion. Buy a reasonably priced well constructed set of cables and a preamp that has tone controls. Our forefathers who designed equipment in the past recognized I need to be able to adjust what we listen to because rooms and equipment sounded different. It was impossible to build something that fit every situation. So one day somebody said, how about tone controls? Why nobody talks about them anymore is beside me. Now everybody uses power cords, interconnects and speaker wire as tone controls.The only people that the lack of tone controls serves is the dealers and manufactures that make the stuff. They are slowly winning.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tone_control_circuit

here’s just a little excerpt from the above link. It sounds like they’re talking about cables. It looks like a cable is just a passive tone control.


In their most basic form, tone control circuits attenuate the high or low frequencies of the signal. This is called treble or bass "cut". The simplest tone control circuits are passive circuitswhich utilize only resistors and capacitors or inductors. They rely on the property of capacitive reactance or inductive reactance to inhibit or enhance an AC signal, in a frequency-dependent manner. Active tone controls may also amplify or "boost" certain frequencies. More elaborate tone control circuits can boost or attenuate the middle range of frequencies.

The simplest tone control is a single knob that when turned in one direction enhances treble frequencies and the other direction enhances bass frequencies. This was the first type of tone control, typically found on radios and record players from the 1930s to the 1970s.


Because some wisemen said it was taboo raysmtb1. Love controls...always have, always will
Me too, thanks for stepping up
Chris at PC really is a class act.  He has already gotten back to me and set me straight.  He wrote:

Hello Erik,

 

That cable is silver-plated copper.

 

Yes…we do carry a pure silver balance interconnect……we co-designed it with DH LABS, and they make it for us……we are waiting for a shipment of 2500 ft to arrive…hope to have it sometime in October.

 

It’s called CONNEX Bl-Ag   $10 a foot is the sale price. CONNEX-66070

 

That's the kind I have been using. :)
I didn’t. I make all my own; interconnects from 5-9s silver and fine silver RCA plugs; speaker cables from insulated litz cable or 5-9’s 16 AWG 5-9s silver with PTFE insulation tubing. 
For me, completing my component upgrade cycle is the first step. No point in thinking about interconnects and/or cables unless you have the components they will be used with, fully broken in, and you completely understanding what they sound like. Once you have the system you want then you can start asking yourself, “is there something I don’t want interconnects and cables to do?” Is your system already perched on “too revealing”… or “too relaxed and not detailed enough?” You must work with your final set of components.

My last iteration was simply have them get out of the way. My components are all simply outstanding, the more revealing the better… not something that has ever been the case before. I know the most transparent cables will sound best. But in the past I needed them to be warm and not overly revealing or just a bit relaxed.
Here's the thing about cables if you buy them used and buy them right you can often buy, audition, then resell for what you paid. I did this for years and finally ended up on a setup I love, almost entirely copper. All that said don't worry about cables until you have the rest of your system set.
Adding to what @jond said. It takes a long time to fully appreciate the effect that a set of interconnects produces. So, after lots of research I almost always need to live with a couple different ones for weeks. I usually end up buying a couple different pair. Although my dealer has let me keep a couples sets of Cardas Clear Beyond for a couple months while I compared with a couple sets of Transparent I own. Right now the Transparent win on components and I am still unsure on the amp. 
Unless you are planning to purchase your components from the used market and you are truly looking for a place to start your cable search, consider the advice of your dealer. He can tell you which cables will work well with what you are buying and for what you are trying to achieve. Personally I have had the best results by staying within the same name brand for interconnects and speaker cables. I use a different brand of power cords but they too are all of the SAME brand. If you are going to buy used or not through a dealer, pick your components first. Then either ask for forum advice based on what you have or try one of the cable lenders mentioned. Good luck!
I think you're past process is a solid way to go.  Personally, do not feel cables make a significant difference (fighting words I know).  Of course, buy quality cables but feel speakers, electronics, and room is where to focus the money.  Just my opinion.
This thread has inspired what may be my best idea ever. I strongly believe there is a huge hole in the audio gear review market for a hi-fi product reviewer who can provide really powerful reviews of products without ever hearing them first. I know, it sounds kind of crazy but stay with me here because here’s how I will win your confidence. I’m going to review each product almost solely by reading other people’s reviews of the products and at the end of my process even talking to the manufacturer who is trying to sell the product for a profit.

I believe there’s a captive audience waiting to be had and I’m certain I can be wildly successful using this model - The Reviewer Who Reviews Gear by Reading Reviews! It’s brilliant and I’m certain to have instant credibility because it’s such a novel approach.

Yes, I know...it sounds ridiculous because it is. No one will ever hire me because I would lack total credibility. There’s only one place someone can get "published" who takes such an approach - right here.


When looking for a new IC or speaker cable, I read the manufactures web site data.  If they have 5 to 10 levels of cable, be wary.  Most cable companies offer a 15 to 30 money back trial, shipping on the buyer.  2nd step is to see what the Agon or ebay etc have used from the company.  I choose the ones that aren't sold second hand for the most part.  Zu speaker cables and Audio Envy are very hard to find in the used market.  When I get the new cable, replace one and leave my original in place.  Zu and Audio Envy never go back.  My Morrow Audio ICs are currently being replaced.
"If they have 5 to 10 levels of cable, be wary."

Honest question, why? I guess they do that to appeal to 
every possible budget. That seems to be Morrow's marketing
plan, constant upgrade up their line.
 

For speaker cables, try calling your speakers manufacturer and see what cables they use to demo their speakers at shows. They should be able to give you a good suggestion since they are trying to have their speakers sound well in that setting. 

Mike
If you like what you have, good. That's an excellent place to start.

Now, before you spend another dime, test every candidate IN YOUR SYSTEM and see if any of them is worth the money. That's for interconnect and speaker cable.

Then there's power. I did the following test:
1. bought a classy isolation transformer, and sited it a utility room, because they tend to growl when on duty;
2. tested three expensive power cords on a standard plug; each sounded better than the stock power cord;
3. tested same three expensive power cords on an isolated plug, and they all sounded the same as the stock power cord; and better than any from step 2.
This led me to conclude that an isolation transformer does what an expensive power cord does, except better, and for less money. And then there's the added benefit of protection of expensive equipment, which was my main consideration.

You asked what I did. That's it, and it worked for me. Tested every candidate IN MY SYSTEM. No reviewers. No know-all posters. No BS. Just experiment.

Another thing to beware of is corrosion. Conductors clad in permeable dielectric like cotton will probably corrode over time.
well if it’s an XLR, i take it to the recording studio hook it up to the Fern microphone preamp and get “ the talent” to stimulate that big Royer or AEA ribbon microphone….

And of course, we keep the reference and know deeply and intimately what it sounds like.

We certainly don’t pay any attention to Albert who is gushing about the latest..before it arrives. Without access to dealers and manufacturers and displaying animosity and self grandeur, no wonder he has access to a minimal sample of cables….

Look across my systems - cables from Audioquest, Cardas, Kimber, Nordost, Blue Jeans , Sumiko, etc….

And yet in the endless quest, i am looking at …..?

But i also believe in servant leadership 

I have a set of Audioquest Type 6 shotgun Biwire speaker cable that i loan out…probably 7 or 8 cross country ups shipments… some to help OTHErs clarify what biwire can do…. I ship them free. AQ has not made type 6 in a decade. They are in Michigan right now connecting Conrad Johnson Premires to Vandy 5a.

@bigkidz had them for awhile…

Have fun. Enjoy the music

Its just how we roll.
dfairc777a

Another +vote for completing your system that is intended for the long haul. Then, begin Cables/Cords auditions. This is my approach, FWIW.

Have fun in your Cabling journey.
Happy Listening!
Give Chris a call…he is awesome. Great cable resource if you are DIY ‘er as well.  
https://www.vhaudio.com/

Also, Morrow interconnects have agreed with my set up as well. They offer 45% off all the time.
https://www.morrowaudio.com/collections/power-cords

Enjoy the search!
I just buy Audioquest. The cable that I can afford from the line up for a specific task: IC, speaker cable or power cord. Minimum amount of colour, Just increased transparency as you go up the ladder. Allows me to hear what my gear sounds like, so then I could pick what I believe is the right component. I don't use cables as tuning tools and i don't think they should be
45% off all the time…..


Easy answer for me. Buy anything Kubala Sosna from Fascination line up, and move up in there levels from there as I can afford it.
tom_hankins

Whom is your KS dealer/retailer ?

Happy Listening!
So true, 45% off all the time...I’ve been helping Music Direct weed out their close outs in recent days. AQ
I usually measure the distance between the components I am hooking together and add a foot or so as I do not have a cabinet where I can take off the back to run the wires. (We made these when I had my shop--made changing components easy!)  I need a little extra length to move components in and out without scratching anything.

Then, I make sure they have gold-plated ends as they do not seem to corrode as much as others.

After that, I pick a fairly well-know manufacturer--Monster seems to have a fairly good line, but there are others.  As for speakers, I run 12/2, and boy has it gotten expensive!  BUT, since I only need a few feet--maybe 20 at the most, and since I use Maggies, I only run one pair of speakers on my main music system (as opposed to the A/V system for TV), so not so bad.

I know many believe that very expensive cables are "better" and I have no problems with that--as a dealer, I LOVED it!  The mark-up is wonderful.  For me, normal cables are just fine, but you buy whatever you think is best for you.

I have been running Audio Research and Magnepan gear since 1974, and I have never had an issue with any of these cable choices.

Cheers!